Food Relief Ship to Somalia Hijacked, UN Suspends Aid

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 7, 2005 (ENS) - The UN World Food Programme has suspended all shipments of humanitarian assistance to Somalia after a vessel chartered by the agency was hijacked. The ship now held by pirates was carrying food aid for 28,000 survivors of the December tsunami. The food would have fed them for two months.

This is the first time in the history of the World Food Programme (WFP) that a ship carrying relief food has been hijacked.

The decision to suspend shipments to Somalia was taken because of the insecurity of Somali waters along Africa's east coast, said WFP Somalia Country Director, Robert Hauser. "If there is a quick, favorable solution, we hope there will be no major interruption of WFP operations in the country," he said.

"The 10 crew members are reported to be in good health and we remain hopeful that the humanitarian cargo on the MV Semlow will be allowed to continue its journey to Bossaso in the northeast of the country unconditionally," Hauser said. "But for now, the waters off the Somali coast present too great a threat to send further shipments."

The UN agency is now negotiating for the release of the ship, and its crew and cargo.

Depending on the release of the detained relief food, vessel and crew, the World Food Programme said it would "review" the suspension.


An average of 12-15 WFP chartered ships arrive at the Port of Mombasa in Kenya every month, bringing food destined for Somalia and six other countries in the region (Photo by George Mulala courtesy WFP)
The MV Semlow, registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was hijacked on June 27 between Haradheere and Hobyo, some 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu. At the time the vessel was some 60 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast.

The WFP had chartered the ship from Motaku Shipping Agency in Mombasa, Kenya. The crew includes a Sri Lankan captain, a Tanzanian engineer and eight Kenyan crew members.

WFP has been in contact with community elders, local authorities, and influential leaders requesting their assistance in securing the release of the cargo.

A Transitional Federal Government mission travelled Monday to Harardheere District to facilitate the release of the WFP food aid, the vessel and the crew.

The head of this mission, Hirsi Aden Roble, the Vice-Minister of Ministry of Marine Transport, was joined by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Jeebe, and two other influential elders from the community.

WFP regularly transports humanitarian cargo from Mombasa to various destinations in Somalia. Since January, WFP has dispatched a total of 22,000 tons of relief food from the Port of Mombasa, Kenya to Somalia.

Between April and May, some 2,000 tons of WFP relief food was distributed in Harardheere and other nearby districts in the regions of Galgadud and South Mudug through WFP's implementing partner, CARE International.

The MV Semlow left the Port of Mombasa on June 23 destined for Bossaso in the Puntland region. The vessel was carrying 850 tons of rice donated by Japan and Germany to WFP's tsunami emergency response program.


The tsunami came as another blow to the already impoverished and weakened people of Puntland, Somalia. The region had suffered four years of drought followed by intense floods, mudslides and atypically low temperatures. (Photo courtesy WFP)
Somalia was hardest hit of the African countries swept by the giant tsunami following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of the Indonesia island of Sumatra on December 26, 2004.

Among the most devastated areas was the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the northeastern corner of the country. It was a shipment of food for the people of Puntland that was hijacked.

The cumulative effects of four years of poor rainfall in the Sool plateau and surrounding areas in Somaliland and Puntland have caused massive livestock losses, rendered many pastoralists destitute and resulted in increased vulnerability and further displacement.

“From what we know right now, Puntland has been hardest hit,” said UNICEF Somalia Representative Jesper Morch immediately after the tsunami. “This comes at a time when Puntland has been suffering from severe and long-running drought and significant assistance will be needed to help these families survive and recover.”

Ascertaining the extent of the damage is difficult due to Somalia’s extensive coastline and the high number of remote villages. However, concerns identified immediately after the tsunami were as the prevention of waterborne diseases and provision of food and basic shelter.

Reports in early January indicated that people were drinking contaminated water and some were struggling to find food.

Nurto Mudey, 27, lost her husband and infant child in the tragedy. Now she must provide for three other children by herself.

"I have nothing to feed the children," she said. The water took away all we had. The future does not hold anything for me. I am dependent on the food aid we received from WFP. I am living with another family. I don’t even have a shelter."

The World Food Programme assists some 275,000 Somalis with 3,000 metric tons of food each month. The agency currently has approximately two weeks’ worth of food stocks in the country.